When Park Güell began to be built in 1900, Barcelona was a modern and cosmopolitan metropolis whose economy was based on the strength of its industry and which had over half a million inhabitants. Its walls had been knocked down nearly half a century earlier and the new city, the Eixample planned by engineer Ildefons Cerdà, had grown spectacularly from 1860 onwards, in what was the largest 19th century city development project in Europe.
Ildefons Cerdà had made a thorough study of the difficulties of modern growth within the walled Barcelona and the impact of technological changes, especially the railway. The plan for his Pla d’Eixample proposal increased the area of Barcelona tenfold, as the result of a practical vision of the city. Cerdà conceived the plan as a flexible instrument undertaken with a reformist spirit in order to foster the formation of a modern city that would be more effective, healthier and fairer.
Barcelona expanded very rapidly throughout the second half of the 19th century, with the Eixample spreading out over the plain. Its central area began to take shape as a large bourgeois centre, while development also advanced along its flanks, in the direction of the old manufacturing areas on the plain, with a more popular and industrial nature.